What's real is now

There is a certain freedom that comes with releasing our hold on time. I wrote an essay last night, the annual placebo effect, in response to the huge volume of change I see occurring around me. Not physical change, but a change in perception. There's a shift in attitudes, a sudden change in priorities, and an increasing emphasis on being reflective, grateful, and aware.

But why now? 

The concept of time is something that has fascinated me for most of my life (I've written dozens of essays related to time over the past few years). No matter how deep into the subject I go, I always come back to one thing: now; the present moment. It's the point in time that moves with us. (Or do we move with it?)

In 2006 I wrote an essay called Timeless Living, where I reflected on the possibility that our perception of time may actually affect the speed at which our body experiences time.

As the "new year" approaches, I've been intentionally avoiding the entire concept of "a new year", because really, what makes it "a new year"? I think that term is a bit misleading and perhaps even dangerous. There's nothing extra new about tomorrow. It's another day, just like today and yesterday.

If I held onto this notion that tomorrow holds some special significance, it would change the way I see reality. Incomplete projects, like my Transparency Report which I had hoped to complete before "the end of the year", would suddenly become sources of stress and disappointment.

But more importantly, thinking about tomorrow as holding some special significance would pull me away from now. And really, now is the only thing I actually have. For all I know, something could happen in the next 14 hours that prevents me from even existing in "the new year".

But there's also a danger in entirely releasing the concept of time: It becomes easy to live only for the present moment, disregarding the future as non-existent or unreal. 

The future is real. We may or may not be physically present in that future, but it's still going to exist, with or without us accepting it.

The balance I attempt to strike is between accepting that now is the only moment in time where I can actually affect anything. The future may be unwritten and I may or may not exist within it, but one thing is certain: my actions right now will reverberate in that future.

There's nothing wrong with creating new years resolutions or setting goals; in fact, I'm an advocate for both, but I don't believe we should feel caged or limited by the framework in which we set those intentions. 

Our concept of time shouldn't be limiting, but rather augmenting. We can use time as a motivation for getting things done, but our foundation in reality shouldn't be based in something that's arbitrary. It should be based in something that's real.

What's real is right now.

Losing Focus Through Association

Where is my focus? Am I focusing on the right thing? Am I putting too much effort in the wrong direction? Am I inadvertently stunting my growth?

These are questions I ask myself quite frequently. I'm not sure when I started asking these questions or even why, but I do know that asking them often leads to recognizing areas of my life where I'm stagnating or where I'm otherwise unconsciously holding myself back or underutilizing my potential (or simply walking in the wrong direction).

The world is full of people who want to tell us how to do things. And I don't think that's bad. I don't think they're doing it with malicious intent: sharing what we know is an innate human quality. I also don't think it's bad to listen to what others have to say: I've grown so much in my life thanks to the advice and experiences shared by others.

But I think there's a danger in following too closely, in listening too intently, in modeling our life too closely around the lives of others. We lose a bit of ourselves through association. If we permanently associate with anything but our true selves, we will easily forget why we're doing things we're doing. We will lose sight of what feels innately important to us.

To really get at the core of what matters, to really focus our energy on growing in the right directions, we need to strip away everything, all the labels, the assumptions, the role models, and the beliefs. 

Who am I? 

When I strip away everything, I just am. And when I approach life from that state, I become a paint brush and everything else becomes the paint. There are no labels, no genres, no niches, no must-haves and have-nots. There are no limitations, no restrictions, no "this is who I am" or "this is who I am not". There just is, and pure potential.

Do something silly

Look up at the sky. Do you see the moon? Look at that moon and say, I want to go up there.

That's silly (except now it's not).

Look at that car, that big hunk of metal and say, I want to put that up in the sky and make it move around.

That's silly (until someone decided it wasn't).

Look at that overweight guy sweating buckets in the gym. He wants to compete in a bodybuilding contest.

That's silly (until he decides to win the contest).

Look at that single-mother of six working two full-time jobs to support her family. She wants to build her own business and be her own boss.

That's silly (until she decides it's not).

What we're capable of is not determined by how unrealistic or unlikely it seems. What we're capable of is determined by how willingly we embrace looking silly and risking failure.

Failure is not silly. Attempting the impossible is not silly. Having no idea what you're doing is not silly.

The only thing that's silly is dismissing something because it seems crazy and impossible. If something calls you to do the impossible, then go, be crazy.

Do something silly.

Notes: Going through imaginary walls

Manuel Loigeret writes about going through imaginary walls and why we need to stop putting people on a pedestal. He uses many examples from his own life -- learning computer programming, learning English, moving to Canada -- to demonstrate why we need to go through the walls we perceive:

There was some fear, that’s for sure, but I don’t think this is the core of the problem. The real constraint was other people. Those who made it and told me it was extremely difficult and nearly impossible. The coders who made me believe that their code was cryptic. Those who told me I could never stand the cold winters of Canada. The teachers who told me I would never be good at speaking/writing in English. Those who told me yoga was only for girls. Those who told me you can only evolve in your career by working from 9 to 5, etc... All these people building imaginary walls to cover their (lack of) knowledge so they could stay in their fortified ivory towers.

Carrying the Weight

Summit of Mt. Monadnock

It was below freezing and I was sweating profusely. A light snow dusted the ground, hiding small patches of ice that littered the rocky trail and made each step questionable.

It wasn't supposed to be a tough hike, but the weather, the extra clothing, and the weight on my back were all adding to the challenge.

I generally hike alone and for a short trek like this one I wouldn't have brought a backpack. However, a friend came along this time and insisted that one of us bring a bag for food, water, and extra warm gear.

I always prefer a challenge so I asked to be the one to carry the bag. But halfway up the trail, sweating, and out of breath, I suffocated my ego and handed the bag over to my friend.

Without the bag, my body felt so light. I began hopping from rock to rock, practically running up the mountain without so much as an elevated heart rate.

The freedom was exhilarating.

And then I landed on a patch of ice and almost slipped. Continue reading

Evolve or Die

I have long accepted my limited social abilities and, for lack of any good reason other than convenience, avoided any situations that may expose me to new social interactions. Limited social interaction alone would not normally be such a bad thing, but when it leads to neglecting interpersonal communication, especially with those you love, the end result can be disastrous and detrimental to life itself.

The Kalabarian analysis of my name says the following about my weaknesses:

Often I am so fired up about my own projects or goals that I inadvertently run over or ignore other people’s feelings and interests. Being receptive and appreciative of others’ contributions, ideas, and feelings would go a long way in improving my relationships.

Weaknesses should not be something to accept and ignore, but rather a guide for what needs the most attention! From this day onward, I will make a conscious effort to improve my interactions with others and learn to value any opportunities to improve my interpersonal communication skills.

To evolve or die means to learn to meet new challenges as they arise and overcome them or to remain stubborn and inflexible. We need to apply this lesson to our own self-imposed limitations in life. If we accept those limitations and let them define us, we exponentially decrease our potential for growth. We should not learn to accept who we are, but rather learn to accept that we are limitless beings.

Edit: I should mention that in this context to evolve means to continuously adapt and face challenges in life. To die means to live in a box and accept your perceived limitations.

Rejecting Limitations

Its always been difficult to set aside any great amount of time to learn a new programming language. I would tell myself there was so much more I could learn from PHP and I would further justify my lack of commitment by believing PHP was all I really needed to make great web applications.

When I started learning more and more about AJAX and the power behind JavaScript, a client-side scripting language, I began to realize just how much I was limiting myself by concentrating solely on PHP. The acceptance of my limitations hid me from the great power behind other programming languages. (Oddly enough, my sudden interest in classical music followed this recent mental rejection of several personal limitations -- I can't help but wonder if there's a connection.)

Don't accept your limitations, reject them. Treat every limitation like the rung on a ladder -- if you don't pull yourself above each one, you're never going to get anywhere!

Finding the Synergy Between Control and Chaos

For Thea's (my future brother-in-law) bachelor party, we went to F1 in Boston. F1 is an indoor, high-powered go-cart track. Two tracks actually, but we only raced on one (track 2). The track allows for 10 racers at a time. There were 15 of us, so we raced in two groups. There were two initial races, and the top ten with the best lap times raced in a final championship round. We were told we would have four races, with the fourth race being the championship race, so at least some of us felt cheated out of a possible win.

It was an incredible experience. I've always understood how professional racers constantly search for the balance between losing control and pushing the machine to its limit. If you're afraid to lose control, then you'll never find where that limit is and therefore never be as good as you could be. This fact holds true in many aspects of life as well. But passing the limit is one thing, you must also find a synergy between control and chaos. I grasped hold of that synergy several times tonight.

Life is fragile. We live on the edge every day without even knowing it. It's only when we get really close to losing control that we realize how out of control something can become; when we just barely avoid a car accident or feel the pit in our stomach as we almost fall off a ladder.

This is an interesting realization for me, in that I've never understood why I do well in certain things and yet with others I feel something inside myself holding back. For example, I compared my racing at F1 with the Mazda Rev-It-Up racing a few years ago, in which we raced actual full size Mazda6 cars. There was no speed limit, you wouldn't have to pay for the car if you flipped it over and the most that could happen to you if you knock over a cone, or even drive entirely out of the course area, is that you'd be penalized or not allowed to compete in the final round. Why then, should I hold back? I shouldn't have, but I did. I held back because I knew with enough speed and just the right turning, it was possible to flip the car. Was it instinct? Was it an intelligent risk assessment? Or was I just being chicken shit?

During the F1 racing, I knew the limits, the maximum speed, the track, and I knew I couldn't flip over. So I pushed the limits, over and over. Tires screeching, I drifted around the corners at maximum speed, spinning out only once in 55 laps. I averaged the best lap time out of everyone during the first two races, so my cart started in first place during the last round. Life must have been teaching me to be humble because in 55 laps the one time I spun out happened to be during the championship round. It cost me the round entirely (I ended with 7th place).

This realization also made me understand why I enjoy change and why, as monotonous as it can become, I enjoy driving. It's mental challenge I crave, visual and physical stimulation to challenge my senses. When I'm driving, I know at any moment an accident could happen. This causes me to be alert and take driving very seriously. I cannot settle into a little rut and enjoy it. I'm not satisfied when something is complete or when everyone else wants to sit back and admire their work. Movement. That's what I crave. Whether physical or mental, movement is vital to our growth as a human race.

Music. If you actually listen to and analyze every beat in your head, you begin to create a mental work of art, which, for me at least, seems to instantly transform into emotion. Movement. Always stay moving.

Mistakes are limits. They are dead end roads. When you discover a dead end road you don't park your car and wait for the road to suddenly lead somewhere interesting. You turn around and find another route! Life teaches us lessons. We have the choice to learn from those lessons and use them to make more educated decisions, or to forget the lesson and make our journey that more difficult. If you're lost, you don't throw away a map that has been handed to you, right? So why would you want to throw away anything that will help you live a better life? (If you don't know how to read a map, learn.)

So how does F1 racing have anything to do with learning lessons in life? Well the single time I spun out in 55 laps shows me how even though you think you've got life figured out, even though you were handed the first place position at the start of the race, there is always something new around the corner. Maybe a new lesson, maybe a new idea. The point is this: don't settle for anything. The moment we begin to accept things for the way they are, we age -- we become old and rigid. Finding that synergy, that balance, in life is what keeps us forever young.